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Committee to examine future of State Bar of Arizona

PHOENIX — A legislative committee is looking into whether the State Bar of Arizona should be mandatory and if it needs dismantling.

An ad hoc committee will meet later this month in the wake of a renewed effort to strip the organization of some of its power, the Arizona Capitol Times reported (http://bit.ly/1R4e3wY).

Rep. Anthony Kern, who is leading the committee, introduced legislation in the last session that would have made membership voluntary.

The bill, which failed in the House with a 29-30 vote, also would have made the Arizona Supreme Court in charge of regulating attorneys statewide. Kern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some lawmakers say the mandatory membership is similar to forcing someone to join a labor union.

State Bar CEO John Phelps will speak at the Oct. 19 meeting.

“This misguided effort to ‘reform’ the Bar by tearing it apart will only diminish the Bar’s service to the community and the profession of law in Arizona,” Phelps said.

There are 32 states including Arizona that have mandatory bar associations. The committee will discuss the history and role of required membership, as well as related association and free speech rights.

A Supreme Court Task Force reviewed the association’s role and governance, releasing a report Sept. 1 that says mandatory membership is beneficial to attorneys, the courts and public.

“The court has adopted ethical rules for the protection of the public, and the Bar’s regulatory function assists the court in enforcing those rules,” the report says. “But what is equally important is that the Bar works proactively to assure that its attorney members comply with the rules.”

Criminal defense attorney Alex Lane set up a website urging his colleagues to get involved. He said the Legislature does not have the authority to regulate attorneys.

“My position is if the State Bar is going to be changed, that would have to happen through either a Board of Governors election or a petition through the Arizona Supreme Court,” he said.